Eilish McColgan on running, rest days and the secret to getting a PB

we interviewed Eilish McColgan

How are you feeling after your amazing performance at the European Championships?

Berlin was an incredible experience. I had gone in to the race having put a lot of pressure on myself, as I knew I was heading into the championship in great shape and capable of winning a medal if I executed a good race. I went off at a strong pace and was over the moon to come away with my first outdoor medal. 2018 had started off as a poor year having picked up a virus, it was nice to really be ending on such a high. Not only a fast time but a silver medal, in such a historic Olympic Stadium!

In your opinion, what’s the secret to getting that PB?

Being consistent. In the past, I used to always think I needed to train harder in order to run fast but now I realise that it's more important to train smart. Since reducing my mileage and focussing on the quality in my sessions rather than quantity - I've gone from strength to strength.

As an elite athlete, how do you stop yourself getting drawn into the stats and competiveness of your sport – how do you keep your love of running alive?

I've been very unfortunate to have spent a lot of months on the sideline injured. Being unable to run is difficult, especially when you are so used to being independent, fit and healthy. Running keeps me sane and is the best way for me to clear my head and thoughts. It's a stress reliever and without it, I really struggle. I've had two surgeries on my left foot and now have 7 screws and a metal plate in there, so every moment I get running outdoors in the fresh air I really cherish. My time away from the sport made me realise how much I love it!

Related: I'm a runner - Team GB 800m runner, Marilyn Okoro

What does a normal training week look like for you?

I run every day apart from Friday. Friday is my rest day and my hard track sessions take place on Tuesday and Saturdays. Sunday is a long run of 10mile and four evenings a week I'll cross train for 40mins - either on the spin bike or cross trainer.

What does a typical day’s training diet look like? How do you fuel yourself on race day?

I don't follow a strict diet but my boyfriend is also an Olympic athlete so we like to cook everything from fresh, including making our own sauces and using a selection of fresh vegetables and a range of different meats throughout the week. I don't drink any alcohol, coffee or tea but that's mainly because I just don't like the taste. There's nothing that I restrict in my diet - everything is in moderation and if I want something sweet - I'll do so. I'm training so hard, I need to make sure I'm getting in enough calories in order for my body to recover rather than restricting it. With the volume of training that I do throughout the week, it's more important that I eat as much as I possible can and fuel correctly to try and prevent any injuries from breaking down. On race day, I stick to what I normally eat throughout the week - nothing changes.

Related: All the nutrients a runner needs and where to get them 

Both your parents have competed, was this a huge part of your childhood? How have they shaped your attitude to the sport?

Because my parents were international athletes, they always did their best to keep me sheltered from the sport. They wanted me to make my own decisions and not to push me into it. I was always the one being the driving force and always wanting to do more whilst they were holding me back. Looking back now, although it was frustrating at the time - it was the right thing to do and the main reason why I think I've gone on to have success at senior level. At Berlin, my parents were really happy to finally see me get a reward for all the work I've put in over the years. They've supported me through all the highs and lows of sport - injuries and illness - so they were proud to see me come away with a medal.

What’s it like having your mum as your coach now?

My mum is a great inspiration for me. It's not until you get into the sport that you realise how difficult it is to be the best in the UK, or the best in Europe. But in 1991, my mum was World Champion - the best in the whole world - and that really is amazing. I have a great respect for her not only as my mum, as an athlete but also as a coach.

There has obviously been a few times throughout the years, especially as a kid, where it's been difficult having my mum as my coach but as I've grown up I've realised that she has always had my best interest at heart. As a kid it was difficult to differentiate between mum and coach but it's become much easier as I've matured into an adult. I wouldn't be where I am today without her support.

She’s also inspired me to pass on my experiences to other runners, so I’ve actually set up online programmes for beginners to advanced runners looking to improve their times through 'Running Made Easy'.

What are your secrets to recovery, what does a typical rest day look like?

I don't get a great deal of downtime but the time I do get away from training I spend with my boyfriend, catching up with family, or going out for a nice meal.

an interview with Eilish McColgan

What are the items in your kit bag you couldn’t live without?

I would recommend to all runners to get a GPS watch. It's motivating to know exactly how far you're running and how fast - it allows you to see the comparison and improvements that you're making which again can really help drive motivation. I use the Polar M430 which gives me all the information I need.

Related: The best GPS running watches for beginners 

I also always have a stretching band and small foam roller in there too. The one I use is shaped like a peanut and vibrates slightly to really get into those tight muscles - it's called a PulseRoll. I also bring my Swell water bottle everywhere! It's brilliant for keeping my fluids cold. And then finally some electrolyte tablets from Science in Sport and Etixx Protein powder for after my sessions for recovery - it's raspberry flavoured and the only one I actually enjoy drinking after running!

What’s your next goal?

This year I would love to run some personal bests over 1500m to 5000m - ideally climbing to 2nd on the all-time lists behind Paula Radcliffe - that's my goal over the next year. But longer term, I would love to be at my third Olympics in Tokyo 2020 and be as close to a medal as I possibly could. Breaking into the top 5 in the world is where I want to be heading.

Double Olympian Eilish McColgan is a sporting ambassador for wearable sports and fitness technology brand Polar.